The best cinemas in Sydney

Movie lover? Catch an arthouse gem, or the latest big hit

Photograph: Daniel Boud

In Sydney, going to the movies is almost as popular as going surfing, having a barbecue, dining out or watching the Test series. Even as the world becomes filled with screens and accessing movies becomes as easy as looking at your phone, Sydney's top cinemas are thriving, because Sydneysiders love the communal experience of watching a film.

While several cinemas have closed in the last decade, others have sprung up in their place, and new complexes in Double Bay and Chippendale are being planned. 

So what are the best cinemas in Sydney? We've ranked them according to the quality of film selection, the architecture and the overall pleasure of the experience. 

Cinemas in Sydney

1

Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace

Cremorne’s Art Deco picture palace is a stunning step back in time. Built in 1935 by George Kenworthy, the top theatrical architect of the period, today’s version is even glitzier than the original thanks to a $2.5-million restoration some years back. Each of the six auditoria has its own colour scheme and decor, but the 744-seat Orpheum is the true star of the show. It even has a genuine Wurlitzer cinema organ, which rises out of a stage pit on weekend evenings complete with flashing lights and a grinning organist.

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Cremorne
2

Ritz Cinema Randwick

With a distinctive Art Deco design restored to its former 1930s glory and an impressive sound system, the six-screen Ritz cinema is both a local landmark and an excellent venue for catching the latest mainstream releases. In the evening the place attracts film geeks who seek out the Ritz for its great acoustics, old-fashioned flair and retrospective screenings. Upstairs the inimitable Bar Ritz boasts a marble bar and balcony – perfect for pre- and post-film drinks. 

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Randwick
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3

Golden Age Cinema

The Golden Age Cinema and Bar is the much-loved basement occupant of the stunning Paramount building. The building was constructed in 1940 as the offices of Paramount Pictures, with a basement theatrette for the previewing of movies to cinema owners. In 2013, the owners converted the old screening room into a 60-seat cinema with an adjoining bar. It screens both classic films and new releases, often on the far fringes of art house.

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Surry Hills
4

Roseville Cinemas

This independent, family owned twin cinema of Roseville is quaint, lovely and a local North Shore landmark. Originally a town hall, it became a cinema in 1919 and underwent a renovation in 2011. They screen art house, foreign and independent movies. There are crying rooms for parents with babies, and they have a bar!

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Roseville
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5

Dendy Opera Quays

A stone’s throw from the Opera House, this complex of three cinemas offers middlebrow and arthouse fare and is fully licensed. Several film festivals play here throughout the year and they also screen plays and operas filmed in high definition from stages around the globe.

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Circular Quay
6

Palace Norton Street Cinemas

Leichhardt's Palace Cinemas were fully refurbed in 2013 and now have eight auditoria, all licensed, and an impressive foyer with a lounge bar and café on site. Palace Norton Street plays host to some of the best annual film festivals such as the French, Spanish, Greek, German and Italian. It is also in close proximity to the eateries and vibrant culture of Norton Street.

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Leichhardt
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7

Palace Verona Cinemas

Paddington’s intellectuals, gays and art-house crowds are always seen milling about the Palace Verona. The four screens are on the small side and the seats are snug but we're forgiving film lovers, especially since this oft-buzzing venue screens an expertly curated line-up of arthouse releases from name directors, world movies, quirky Australian indies and special one-offs, like screenings of overseas stage productions and concerts. There's a licensed café, wine and espresso bar on the premises.

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Paddington
8

Dendy Newtown

Matching its Opera Quays sister for style if not setting, the Dendy Newtown offers quality first releases, ten screens, super-comfortable seats, Dolby digital surround sound and a bar. There’s free parking for filmgoers in the Lennox Street car park behind the cinema – a definite plus on the often jam-packed King Street. 

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Newtown
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9

Chauvel Cinema

Named after the Australian film pioneer Charles Chauvel – of Jedda fame – this much-loved local cinema is part of the Palace Cinemas chain. Its proscenium arch brings true grandeur to the art of film and the staff really know their stuff. Screenings tend to be seriously arty and the place also holds Cinemateque screenings. Be sure to seek out the bar area with its wall collage of 1960s and '70s film. 

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Paddington
10

Skyline Drive-In Blacktown

The Skyline underwent its first renovation in more than 50 years in 2013, and the result was a '50s-in-America’ theme, right down to a pastel coloured, outsized diner, dishing up hamburgers, hot dogs and choc-tops. This retro-fabulous structure sits between the cinema’s two screens, forming a sound barrier. The drive-in staff are dressed to match the diner, though they won’t skate up to your car in rollerblades to serve you rootbeer, Happy Days-style. 

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Prospect
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11

Hoyts Entertainment Quarter

This vast pseudo-retro cinema boasts huge screens, stadium seating (total capacity 3,000) and smart facilities. A classy upgrade package is Luxe: for twice the cost of a usual ticket you get a cosy, two-person sofa with unobstructed views, plus free soft drinks, tea, coffee, snacks, hot food and popcorn. There’s also booze to buy, which you can take in with you. They also boast an IMAX screen. From March 2017 the nearby Cinema Paris became part of the Hoyts Entertainment Quarter complex as cinemas 13-17. 

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Moore Park
12

Event Cinemas George Street

This sprawling cinema complex with 17 screens shows virtually every new commercial movie release as soon as it opens and features the luxurious Gold Class screens. Located in the heart of George Street’s garish entertainment strip, it attracts throngs of noisy kids and can get a little edgy at night, so guard your valuables. The state-of-the-art auditoria with digital surround sound and comfy seats are especially popular with teens and out-of-towners, as you’ll see from the queues. Many film festivals have screenings here throughout the year, and they also screen first run Asian and Indian films.

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Sydney
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